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Reading EagleMost sports historians agree that the decade of the 1950s was an apex for boxing. It was the "good old days" of the sweet science, a time when the sport was still mainstream and its champs were household names.
One of the greatest from that era, former world lightweight champion Willie Pep, reflects on that period in a book originally published in the 1970s. Never widely distributed at the time, "Friday's Heroes" has been re-released in paperback.
It's a winner for any fan of the fight game. Pep, who died in 2006 at 84, focuses on the popular pugs of the 1950s. Framed around a trip to Schuylkill County for a Christmas Eve benefit, Pep's stories humanize men who made their living in the most brutal of professions.
He devotes chapters to well-known champs such as Rocky Marciano and Kid Gavilan, but also remembers the likes of Steve Belloise and Frankie Ryff, mostly forgotten contenders who were staples of the "Gillette Friday Night Fights" series.
Pep often digresses into his own experiences, and punctuation and grammar tend to be an afterthought. Somehow, it fits. The result is a feeling that you're in a smoke-filled gym someplace, eavesdropping on old fighters telling old stories about the glory days of a gritty sport.